In Luke 15:11- 32 Jesus tells the story of a son who asked his father for his inheritance. Sounds kind of boring, right? And if you look at the facts it kind of seems generic. A rebellious younger son, and jealous older brother (His younger brother gets away with everything. I mean he lost half of the family fortune and he still got a party.) And a father trying to juggle the two. Come to think of it, it might make a touching movie.
But where was I…
Oh yes, a boring story about a generically dysfunctional family. Most of us know this as the story of the Prodigal Son, but maybe it should be called the story of the Gracious Father. It’s a story about the long arc of grace and change that bends toward a father. Let’s take a look at the father and his son.
The Father in Jesus’ story never gives up on his son. Jesus tell us that the Father never stopped looking for him, “But while he (the son) was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him.” (Luke 15: 20) There are several big things that happen here:
- 1) The father was actively looking for his son. A son who has for all practical purpose disowned his family.
- 2) He felt compassion. Keep in mind that the son has shamed his family. He doesn’t deserve compassion. He left the family and they have no reason to accept him back.
- 3) He ran. It was dishonorable for a Jewish man of his stature to run. But he didn’t care his boy had come home- He ran.
- 4) He embraces and kisses his son. Jesus audience would have been shocked by the father’s reaction to the son.
But the father isn’t finished he gives him a ring, a robe, shoes, and throws a party. The father completely restores the son. He isn’t looking to punish him- He doesn’t want that. He wants to shower his son with love. His love covers a multitude of sin. (1st Peter 4:8)
And that is God’s heart towards us. He isn’t sitting on his throne waiting for us to mess up so he can punish us. It’s the exact opposite- He’s waiting for us to run to him. Consider God’s response to Adam and Eve after they ate the fruit. He does hold them responsible for their actions but, he promises to fix what they have broken, (Genesis 3:15) and then the writer includes this detail, “And the Lord God made for Adam and for his wife garments of skins and clothed them.” (Genesis 3:21). God continued to care for them.
The son probably thought about this for a while. He doesn’t like some of his father’s rules. He’s ready to be his own man. He’s ready to live on his own in the big city where the grass is greener because it’s the other side. The story goes that the son spent all of his money on reckless living and, “a severe famine arose in that country… so he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him into the fields to feed the pigs.” (Luke 15:14-15) His life went from bad to worst and he finds himself not just feeding pigs but desiring to eat their slop. This would have been hell on earth for a Jewish person of Jesus’ day.
But Jesus tells us that he came to his senses and decides to go home saying, “How many of my father’s hired servants have more than enough bread, but I perish here with hunger! I will arise and go to my father, and I will say to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Treat me as one of your hired servants.” (Luke 15:17-18) You see the son was on a long arc that brought him a new and deeper understanding of his father. At the beginning of our story he wants nothing more than to leave, but at the end of his story he wants desperately to return to his father.
Without the journey the son wouldn’t have known how deep his father’s love was. Paul says it like this, “but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8) Like, the son we all have sinned and wondered far from God. But we know God loves us because he sent Jesus to save us while we were still sinning. Pope Francis once said this, “What a beautiful truth of faith this is for our lives: the mercy of God! God’s love for us is so great, so deep; it is an unfailing love, one that always takes us by the hand and supports us, lifts us up, and leads us on”.
When we stop trying to earn God’s love, mercy, grace, favor, and kindness. And learn to rest in the truth that he has already given them to us through Jesus our lives become simple. Our lives are no longer on the balances scale but found in Christ. (Galatians 2:20)